In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win or lose. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.
This week I’ve chosen Orlando Pride defender Steph Catley.
The 23-year-old Australian international has appeared in 23 games for Orlando, already making a place for herself in women’s soccer history. Catley scored the first ever goal for the Pride in its inaugural season on April 21st, 2016. Sometimes I forget just how young she is but then I remember this young talent has already made 57 appearances for the National team. But I also need to give some credit to Australia’s coaches, as they are known for young talent and putting them into the squad as teenagers and finding success (Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon, Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso to name a few).
Orlando 0-1 Chicago
While Orlando may have lost this game, (thanks to a penalty by Christen Press in the 68th minute) I do think it was one of their best efforts on the year. Steph Catley was a player who stood out on the night, starting the game strong in her left back position. Her first call to action was in the third minute as she raced down the sideline to receive a beautiful ball from Toni Pressley, splitting the two defenders who tracked her down (Alyssa Mautz and Taylor Comeau). She found fellow Australian Alanna Kennedy for the trailing ball a few yards from the Pride’s 18, takes a shot at serving up Rachel Hill in the box but her effort was a bit strong over the top.
Right off the bat, we see Catley attempting to put pressure on the Red Stars outside backs, showing not only her aggressiveness but her ability to get forward and find that space on the left side. I am an avid supporter of defenders who want to get involved in the attack and Catley is just one example who can do that on a consistent basis.
I thought Catley and Jasmyne Spencer worked well together, combining down in the offensive third (in the form of give-n-go or overlapping) for the Pride on several occasions and earning Orlando corners which they totaled six in the first half alone. With the awareness of Catley and the speed of Spencer, they could spread out Chicago for a period of stretches in the first half by exploiting the space once again on the left side.
In the first half, Orlando controlled possession nicely (70%), building an attack from the back significantly better than Chicago, which allowed them to dictate the pace of the game early on. The start of that success was the backline of Orlando, consisting of Catley, Ali Krieger, Kristen Edmonds and Toni Pressley. The organization allowed Catley to venture up as far as she wanted, knowing she had the capability to ignite the offense and it could pay off at some point.
In the second half, we finally saw Catley make a play in Pride’s end, showing her defensive prowess. The first major one being in the 58th minute when she read a sneaky seam pass from Vanessa DiBernardo in the middle of the park. By recovering to make a sliding tackle just outside the 18 on a ball that was on its way to Press, Catley prevented a dangerous 1V1 with Orlando keeper Audrey Bledsoe. It was a beautiful pass and if Catley hadn’t stretched out for it, surely Press would’ve made the backline pay for letting her slip through the cracks. It was really the first time in the run of play that Catley was called upon after spending most of the first 45 on the offensive end for the Pride.
Just a few minutes later in the 62nd minute, Catley was busy breaking up a play in a 1V1 situation on the right side of the box. Again, it was DiBernardo with the ball, this time looking to switch it to her left for potential service, Catley got a foot on it just in time to clear it another 10 yards from goal. A play that momentarily gave Orlando a breather as Chicago had been pressuring relentlessly for the last few minutes.
Catley was the best player on the field for Orlando in my opinion, her versatility clearly being showcased all throughout the game, doing a little bit of everything to help her team. She created just about every corner for Orlando, her service into the box showed promise, she worked tirelessly all game down the left side to find space and did her defensive duties to a tee all night. She was absolutely outstanding and a joy to watch against a tough Chicago team.
Catley is a key player that needs to continue her form if Orlando want to stay alive in the playoff hunt. The Pride are currently sitting in sixth place with four wins, five losses, and three draws on the season.